Hail kale: Supermarkets track Hollywood’s favourite vegetable

Vegetable lauded for nutrient and vitamin content is a key ingredient for juicing fans

Kale farmer Christopher Keane: “We can’t keep it on the shelves. I think it was some model over in America mentioned a few years ago that she was eating kale and the next thing was, everyone wanted to eat kale.” Photograph: The Irish Times

Kale farmer Christopher Keane: “We can’t keep it on the shelves. I think it was some model over in America mentioned a few years ago that she was eating kale and the next thing was, everyone wanted to eat kale.” Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Gwyneth Paltrow’s dietary whims were the last thing on Christopher Keane’s mind when he began growing kale after he left college many years ago. Back then, the green vegetable was only sold in shops at Halloween time, particularly in Dublin, as it was an ingredient in colcannon.

“It was a small little line that I enjoyed doing at Halloween. Even at school I used to grow it. But it has really taken off in the last few years because of the whole health thing,” he recalls. “Now we can’t keep it on the shelves. I think it was some model over in America mentioned a few years ago that she was eating kale and the next thing was, everyone wanted to eat kale.”

The vegetable is lauded for its high nutrient and vitamin content and is a key ingredient for juicing advocates. Celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston and chef Jamie Oliver have popularised the leafy vegetable.

Today Christopher Keane has increased his output tenfold at Mill View Farm, in Oldtown, Co Dublin. He is one of a handful of kale growers in the State and he also imports the vegetable from Spain and the UK to ensure it stays on the supermarket shelves after he has exhausted his crop. “Supermarkets are running out and you get a call to say they want another crate of kale. That has never happened before,” he says.

“Kale crisps are really starting to take off now as well. People are making them themselves and I’m getting inquiries from people wondering will I supply them in big quantities. But juicing is probably the biggest thing at the moment. People are using kale in everything, stir-frying, boiling, microwaving, juicing, crisps. There are so many things you can do with it.”

Vegetable grower Colm Leonard from Rush also grows kale and says it is taking over from spinach. “Last year our kale sales went up by 300 or 400 per cent. They just can’t get enough of it.”

Juicing

But while spinach sales to supermarkets are not increasing, he says wholesale demand for spinach has really taken off, with most of that destined for juicing.

Christopher Keane also has high hopes for another crop that is being described as the new superfood. He is the only licensed grower of Beneforté broccoli in this State.

Labelled the super broccoli, it contains very high levels of a nutrient called glucoraphanin which is converted in the body to sulforaphane. It boosts antioxidant enzyme levels and has been associated with a range of health benefits for the heart.

But while there may be a surge in demand for certain vegetables, IFA’s vegetable committee chairman Matt Foley says there is a real risk that some vegetables will no longer be commercially grown in Ireland if growers are not protected.

He says the single biggest threat to growers is the dominant position of the large supermarket chains who keep forcing down the prices paid to food suppliers. “Young people are not getting involved in growing because they can’t see themselves making a living from it,” he says.

After he and other vegetable growers outlined their concerns to the Oireachtas Committee on Agriculture, the committee called on the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission to investigate these complaints and name and shame supermarkets if they breach of new grocery regulations.